I clearly remember the moment I first entered a crisis center. I was seeking legal counsel and exploring transitional housing to escape a violent relationship that had finally spiraled to the point where I couldn’t deal with it on my own anymore. Looking back, what surprises me the most, is how guilty I felt for even showing up there. Living in the transitional housing were women with children and women with burns. There were women who didn’t speak English, women who weren’t legal citizens, and women who were absolutely alone. I walked in the door for help, and suddenly I felt ashamed for “stealing” their services. I felt ashamed at how small the bruises on my arms seemed compared to the outward signs of suffering I saw on others. To be honest, I felt like a weak, privileged, girl. Undeserving.
This kind of thinking was what held me back the most on my journey to reclaim my health and my happiness. By comparing myself to others, and denying the severity of what I had gone through, I denied myself the ability to begin to heal. I didn’t realize how wildly important it is to acknowledge your own experience. There is nothing but futility in comparing the size of your wound to the size of another’s. They both hurt. They both need time to close. I spent so much time telling myself I didn’t have a wound, not really, that I never administered myself any kind of emotional first aid.
The facts remain the facts. I was in a five-year relationship that gradually turned physically and financially abusive. With my makeup kit, I learned how to cover bruises given to me by someone I loved. That person was also using my credit cards, and I didn’t have enough financial independence to be able to get my own living space. I was unsafe, unsure, and alienated from friends and family. Yet somehow, I couldn’t correlate being myself with being a victim.
I’m not proud to say this, but now I see that I was subconsciously buying into stereotypes and tropes for what a “victim” is. Embarrassingly enough, I could not associate domestic violence with my own relationship. I grew up in a loving family, I had higher education, and a great job. I didn’t have any broken bones. I was so naive and biased as to think that I couldn’t possibly be a real victim. Obviously, that is not reality. The reality is that one in three women in the United States are directly affected by interpersonal violence. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) estimates that nearly 20 people per minute are abused by an intimate partner. Domestic violence is a permeating issue. It is not relegated to any class, color, gender, or any other category. It affects people, and it affects them in traumatizing ways. There are studies that suggest that complex PTSD is more common to those who survive domestic violence than those who survive military combat.
Am I a victim? Yes. Am I survivor? Absolutely. Did it take me three years after exiting my abusive relationship to acknowledge that fact? Sadly, yes. I firmly believe that by telling myself that what I experienced was not abuse, I hugely delayed the point in time at which at I could intentionally try to feel better. I was at the whim of PTSD symptoms for years, and I never even paused to consider that I may have experienced trauma. If I hadn’t spent so much time convincing myself that what I went through wasn’t that bad, then maybe I would have spent more time healing. If I hadn’t spent so much time comparing my situation to others’, I may have sooner realized the level of pain that I was in. Pain is pain, and it is not relative to someone else’s.
If any of part of this self-defeating attitude resonates with you, my suggestion is this: try to remember that comparison truly is the thief of joy. You will never feel better by comparing your story to others. Your story is legitimate all by itself, and so are your feelings around it. Never waste time wondering if you what you went through is bad enough. The fact that you’re hurting is enough to self-validate. Be gentle with yourself. For me, that was the only moment at which I began to move forward.
If you or someone you know would like to speak with Erika about her experiences and learnings for support and an listening ear, please check out her profile here on the Kindarma website.